The China Cartel

Carfentanil is a synthetic opiod that is 10,000 times more powerful than heroin.  It has no legal medical use for humans.  It’s so deadly that a lethal dose can be absorbed through the skin.  It’s so deadly that the government considers it a potential WMD with lethal effects comparable to nerve gas!

Who sells this poison?  China, that’s who.  At this time China hasn’t even made it illegal, and claims that enforcement would be difficult with over 100,000 labs, many of which are illegal.

Who buys this poison?  Drug cartels buy it to mix with heroin to create a more powerful addictive (and deadly) drug, thus “stretching” the heroin supply.  The question is: who else is buying it?  ISIS?  Hamas?  Iran?  North Korea?  Some disgruntled “lone wolf”?

What’s my point?  As I said in “Crouching Tiger”, China is not our friend.  They’re happy to take our money but just as happy to contribute to the decline of the West.

Habitat III – The New Urban Agenda

This month (October 2016), the UN is holding the third of it’s global conferences on cities; previous ones were held in 1976 and 1996.  The objective is to bring together government officials, industry leaders, planners, and environmental experts to discuss the future of cities around the world.  The State Department is representing the US government.  Increasing populations will have a major effect on urban environments and demands for services during the 21st century.  I’m all for sharing ideas, identifying best practices, and making the world better; however since the UN has become the global advocate for socialism we conservatives have to look at it with a bit of skepticism.  If you haven’t read their draft document it’s available on the Habitat III website.

Like UN Agenda 21 the draft has some lofty goals.  They’d like cities to be clean, safe, sustainable, and provide opportunities for all (nothing wrong with that).  They’d like to eliminate poverty, hunger, violence, inequality, discrimination, environmental degradation, and a list of diseases.

Like UN Agenda 21 the draft has the usual list of hypocritical goals.  The UN wants equality and equal opportunity for girls and women, and an end to discrimination.  We’re trying in the West, but no Muslim country will ever grant equality to women, who are often treated as less than human.  Countries that stone rape victims for adultery and hang men for being gay don’t see equality as a virtue.  The UN wants justice.  Tell that to countries that still torture, flog, and mutilate criminals.  The UN wants participatory government.  Tell that to communist countries like China where speaking out might get you 12 years hard labor.  The authors of this document are fully aware of these harsh and unchanging realities in totalitarian and theocratic states.

Unlike UN Agenda 21 there’s no obvious explicit demand for billions of dollars to be redistributed from developed nations to the third world but it is implicit.  Countries that can’t even end their own internal conflicts aren’t going to generate the cash to build clean water systems, productive farms, modern infrastructure, and the host of services needed in a city.

Their draft items often begin with “We will …” so let’s use that to draw our “line in the sand”.

We will listen, share, and learn.  We can combine past experiences with new knowledge to build better cities in the future.

We will work with the teams to identify best practices as well as chronic problem areas.

We will use new developments and best practices for our cities that will work within our legal, financial, and cultural environment.

We will work to protect our environment within current practical technology and will continue research on new technologies.

We will help other nations reach their objectives within financial reason and as long as the safety of US aid workers can be assured.

We will NOT implement any objectives that would deprive US citizens of their constitutional rights within our borders.  For example, if their “eliminate all forms of violence” means gun confiscation, that’s unconstitutional here.  There’s a fundamental reality that there will always be bad people who want to hurt good people and that self-defense is a fundamental human right.

We will NOT allow foreign troops operating under the UN flag to conduct any operations against US citizens within our borders.  The UN is an organization, not a legitimate state, so It’s military powers are limited, or at least should be.

None of this advocates isolationism, aggression, or abandoning our allies; it’s simply sovereignty.  Borders matter, and yes, I want secure borders.  A nation without borders will either descend into chaos or tyranny.

 

The USA can work with the world without surrendering to it.

The Iceberg

Thanks to technological advances like radar and satellite tracking, icebergs aren’t the bane of shipping that they once were, but we can still learn something from them.  Most of the mass of an iceberg is under water, which is why people refer to the “tip” of an iceberg.  Well, the national debt is like an iceberg in some ways.

We see a number, right now over 19 trillion dollars.  That number is so large that nothing in our everyday experience helps us to comprehend it.  It’s almost doubled in less than eight years under the progressive Obama administration and there’s no reason to think that Democrats would curb that growth.  That’s an annual increase of around 9%.  Are your CDs paying that?

What we don’t see is what lurks beneath that number; the impact on our economy and national security.  Like any other debt, the national debt isn’t free; the government must pay interest on that debt to the bondholders.  Interest rates have been at record lows for years but they won’t stay there forever.  As interest rates rise the government will have to pay higher interest on new debt as it’s issued.  This is one part of the debt iceberg we don’t see.  Debt interest is paid from tax revenues, so as the debt rises the government will either have less money to spend on national defense, social programs, and environmental protection or it will have to raise taxes.  A second part of the debt iceberg that’s largely hidden is that the debt eventually has to be repaid as the bonds mature.  This is a huge and growing mortgage on future generations.  Of course that debt can always be refinanced at a higher interest rate but we all know where that leads: bankruptcy.  The third, and least conspicuous hidden part of the debt iceberg is that trillions of dollars in US debt are held by foreign countries.  That gives these countries leverage to demand special treatment and even an economic weapon to use against us in case of a conflict.

Here’s something to think about.  The national debt is now over 105% of the US GDP.  That’s right, it’s higher than the total annual output of our nation.  Anyone who thinks this can go on forever must believe that money grows on trees.

Here’s what we need to bring this situation under control before the iceberg of debt sinks the ship of state:

  1. Responsible elected officials who recognize the problem and are actually willing to do something about it.  This means keeping spending within revenues and actively reducing outstanding debt.
  2. A plan to reduce the outstanding debt.  If we ever get real tax reform (not just more pages of rules) this should be part of it.  For example, under a flat tax we could have Flat+1, where the flat portion covered expenses, 1/2 of the extra 1% goes to debt reduction, and the other 1/2 of the extra 1% goes to upgrading our infrastructure (see “Infrastructure: Circulatory System of a Nation” for more on this issue).
  3. Limits on both the total amount of debt that can be held by foreign countries and the portion of that amount that can be held by any one country.  See “The More You Owe Me the More I Own You” for further discussion of limits on foreign debt.

 

Crouching Tiger

Over the past few decades, while the world’s attention has been focused elsewhere (particularly after the attacks of 9/11 and growing terrorist activity) China has been surely but quietly building it’s strategic and tactical military establishment.  No nation on earth threatens China yet it’s buildup of long-range military strength, including ships, aircraft, and missiles suggests that it’s preparing for more than homeland defense.  By 2020 it’s estimated that their navy will have 100 more ships and submarines than ours.  Sea power is one-third of the military triad, and it’s as important today as ever.  Recently it’s been occupying and even building islands in the South China Sea, a critical shipping route that has disputed claims of ownership.  The ability to disrupt commerce in the shipping lanes can’t be underestimated.

It has also taken non-military actions that could adversely affect the USA if China chose to attack us.  US corporations have been hacked by Chinese seeking our technology, and these hacking skills are directly transferable to hacking of government networks and cyber attacks on our infrastructure.  China has been buying property in the US that could be used as centers for espionage or sabotage.  It also holds over 1 trillion dollars of US debt that could be redeemed at once to cause an economic shock.

So, what can the US do to protect ourselves without becoming isolationist?

First, recognize that China is still a communist country that’s just using capitalism to enrich itself.  It’s a trading partner that needs world markets for its cheaply made products, but it’s not our friend.  It has no interest in concepts like individual freedom or human rights.  Over 99% of court trials end in a conviction.  The death penalty is widely used.  It uses threats against family members in China to silence dissenters who live in other countries.  The state controls every aspect of peoples’ lives, much as “progressives” would like to do here.

With that recognition, accept the idea that all future wars won’t necessarily be geographically limited and keep our military strong.  We can rule the seas or lose them.  We need well equipped and trained troops, long-range aircraft, and, even though we hope they’d never be used, our land and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.  The concept of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is one remnant of the Cold War that hasn’t gone away.

Keep our infrastructure strong.  Our transportation infrastructure is essential to rapid mobilization and sustaining a long conflict.  The idea that a hacker anywhere in the world could shut down large sections of our electric grid or cripple our financial system is unacceptable.  China isn’t the only nation exploring cyber warfare against the US.  Computer attacks from Eastern Europe and Middle Eastern nations like Iran have been increasing too.

Impose limits on the total amount of US debt that can be held by other countries along with a limit on how much can be held by any one country.  I proposed this in an earlier article.

Uphold the Second Amendment.  The endlessly repeated story that Japan didn’t invade the USA during WW II because there would be “a rifle behind every bush” has not been historically verified, but it does illustrate a point.  If foreign troops were to land on US soil during a widespread conflict when our troops were spread thin around the world, the men and women of the shooting sports would defend their families and their country from the invaders.  They would become the militia that the authors of the Constitution envisioned, and every other nation knows it.

We are not the World Police.

While we must certainly honor treaties with our allies, neither our Constitution nor any international agreement makes us world police.  Didn’t 58,000 US deaths in Vietnam teach us anything about stepping into the middle of a civil war?  The French fought there before us and finally gave up.  When civil war breaks out our job is to get US citizens out of harm’s way, that’s all.  Should we pick sides?  If we side with Assad in Syria we’re siding with a dictator, but if we side with the rebels we’re siding with some Al Qaeda linked groups that are using this conflict as a training exercise from which they will expand their terror network.  Who attacked us on 9/11?

The concept of nation building is even worse.  We invaded Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11 and what have we accomplished?  We’ve given them a constitution that says health care is a universal right and that they can’t use their military to intervene in others’ affairs (how about that), but Iraq is not peaceful and free.  Iraqis are now free to fight a sectarian civil war that has led to the rise of the brutal Islamic State.  The Sunni-Shi’ite conflict dates from before Europeans set foot on this continent, so what makes us think we can settle it?  We’ve just substituted sectarian killing for Saddam’s guards’ killing.  Sadly, the Islamic State is also destroying antiquities that date back to the earliest civilizations in an effort to erase the region’s heritage.  Are we nation building in Afghanistan where the Russians fought for years before giving up?  Like Pakistan, many areas of Afghanistan have tribal populations, and tribal loyalty supersedes any loyalty to a central government.  As we leave the Taliban will continue it’s campaign of terror, and some of the local militias that we aided are just as bad.  We haven’t seen much thanks from either country for the thousands of lives and billions of taxpayer dollars (some of which simply vanished) we’ve sacrificed in those countries. Our brave troops are exhausted and many are injured.  We can’t keep up an endless war.  We need to repair our infrastructure, build our economy, create jobs, and secure our own nation.  We need to pick our battles carefully, starting with making sure they are our battles to fight.

Infrastructure: Circulatory system of a nation.

Once again we’re hearing how our aging infrastructure needs maintenance and upgrading.  We heard it 6 years ago when the “economic stimulus” was launched, but how much infrastructure actually got fixed and how much of that money went to political cronies?  There are very few “shovel ready” projects available at any one time.  We have a gas tax that’s supposed to fund highway maintenance, but does it all really go to that purpose?  Modern, efficient, and secure infrastructure is essential to commerce and national security so why is it neglected except when it becomes politically expedient?

Infrastructure can be categorized in two ways.  The first is as transportation or transmission.  Transportation infrastructure moves people, materials, and goods via roads, bridges, rail lines, seaports, and airports.  Transmission infrastructure moves electricity, communications, water, gas, and oil by wires, fiber optics, towers, and pipelines.  The second categorization is by ownership, either public or private.  While roads, bridges, and municipal water supplies tend to be publicly owned, much of the remaining infrastructure is privately owned, often by more than one company.  It could all be summarized in a matrix

Publicly owned infrastructure shouldn’t be maintained at the whim of political expediency or by pork; it should be an integral part of every budget, with priorities clearly set.  Companies should maintain their infrastructure simply to reliably support their customers.  In some cases tax incentives may be appropriate, while, if national security is being compromised, legislation may be required to force the issue.

Let’s look at a few examples, the first being our electrical grid.  Recent studies have shown that coordinated substation sabotage could black out much of the nation, while some have said that cyber attacks could achieve the same result.  This is a matter of national security that requires correction and coordination between the private owners and the government.  Similarly, a cyber attack on data communications could theoretically cripple our financial institutions.  Municipal water systems are an example of publically owned infrastructure.  Some are nearly a century old and leak as much water as they deliver.  This is a waste of taxpayer dollars and of a valuable resource.  Rail transportation is another example.  Rail is the most fuel-efficient way of moving large cargoes  over land, but, as recent accidents have shown, safety is critical, particularly when transporting hazardous materials.  The rails themselves, bridges, train maintenance, road crossings, and speed limits on curves all enter into safety.  Red-list  bridges are another threat to public safety and commerce.  Seaports are the gateway into the US of most imports, but here security is critical to ensure that WMD’s or illegal drugs aren’t being smuggled in.  There are many more but you get the point.

All major infrastructure projects, such as power plants, shall be built and run by US companies, for three reasons.  One is national security, as a foreign-owned plant could be shut down by a hostile nation during a time of conflict.  Another is to keep US dollars in the US to create and maintain US jobs.  Finally, most people wouldn’t want to be paying their utility bills to China.

Take infrastructure out of the political football stadium and into everyday reality. Establish a temporary joint public/private committee to review the infrastructure matrix, identify needs and obstacles, establish priorities, and present recommendations to Congress and to the states for locally owned services like municipal water supplies. Also reform and simplify the complicated permitting process that delays critical projects for years. This will provide a basis for sound budgeting and legislative action.  Allowing our infrastructure to fail due age, inefficiency, or an attack is not an option for a secure nation.

Security II

Economic security at the national level is basically sound money management, including setting priorities, managing budgets, and limiting debt.  Congress doesn’t seem to be too good at these.  Well run companies carefully manage their capital structure.  Government at all levels doesn’t bother because it can always raise taxes.  Debt can reach a point where raising taxes alone won’t work.  Can anyone even conceive of how much $17 trillion is?  How are our children and grandchildren supposed to pay this off?  True, it’s not all due at the same time, but as some debt is retired we keep adding more so the trend is upward.  Has foreign debt given other countries too much leverage in setting US policy, or could it be used as an economic weapon?

At the personal level economic security starts with a good education that leads to a decent paying job that leads to a secure retirement.  This was an improving trend in our country but that trend seems to have reversed as the middle class is in decline.

Emotional security is simply the feeling that things are good in this country.  For generations many parents found emotional security in seeing their children do better than they did.  I was the first in my family to go to college and my parents were proud.  For immigrants from oppressive countries emotional security may come from freedom from the fear of a brutal government.  Emotional security contributes to the “pursuit of happiness”.

There’s an economic metric that retailers watch called the Consumer Confidence index.  It’s a measure of both the economic and emotional status of the population.  Higher confidence means consumers are more likely to spend than when they’re worried.